Thursday, December 16, 2010

This year's Nancy Meyers Movie

Ah, Christmas -- the time of year when it's safe for romantic comedies aimed at adults over 50.

Otherwise known as "Nancy Meyers Movies."

Nancy Meyers does not have to be involved in any way, shape or form with a Nancy Meyers movie. Take James L. Brooks' How Do You Know, due out this Friday. It's a classic Nancy Meyers Movie, but Meyers had nothing to do with it.

So what makes a Nancy Meyers Movie a Nancy Meyers Movie?

For starters, it has to have at least one old person. Or in some cases, an older person. The old person in How Do You Know is Jack Nicholson, and it's his inclusion almost entirely that thrusts this movie into the unmistakable realm of a Nancy Meyers Movie. Without Nicholson, you might look at the cast (Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon) and mistake it for a Judd Apatow movie. But Nicholson's presence clinches its status.

Secondly, it's usually an ensemble piece, either involving multiple narratives, or a lot of well-known actors involved in the same "complicated" narrative (look for that word "complicated" to reappear later). How Do You Know certainly qualifies in that regard.

Thirdly, it's a comedy, usually with at least one ribald scene that plays prominently in the trailers.

Lastly, it comes out at Christmastime. Sure, there are films that fit this description released at other times of the year, but they are never as comfortable nor as successful as they are at Christmas.

After a distinguished screenwriting career (Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, both Father of the Bride movies), Nancy Meyers began directing films in 1998, but her first film was The Parent Trap, featuring Lindsay Lohan as twins. This is most certainly not a Nancy Meyers Movie, so in considering the history of the Nancy Meyers Movie, let's jump forward to her sophomore effort, and go forward from there.

Year: 2000
Movie: What Women Want
Release date: December 15th
Director: Nancy Meyers
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie:
Well, it's directed by Nancy Meyers. But the archetype hasn't totally taken shape yet, as this movie about a man who can hear the thoughts of women is both more broad and more high concept than the movies Meyers would direct later on. However, Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt were both long enough in the tooth that you'd have to say the movie was aimed at people at least their age (late 30s for her, early 40s for him).

Year: 2001
Movie: Kate & Leopold
Release date: December 25th
Director: James Mangold
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: It's not, really. But it's the best the fall of 2001 has to offer. And I think at this point in Meg Ryan's career, you can say that anything she appeared in had an older audience in mind. Not the same for Hugh Jackman, then just a year removed from the first X-Men. Then again, he does play a duke who travels in time from 1876 to present-day New York, so that definitely has old person appeal.

Year: 2002
Movie: Two Weeks Notice
Release date: December 20th
Director: Marc Lawrence
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: Another poor fit. This is more of a screwball comedy, starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, and a bad one at that. So let's just move on. I promise things get better from here.

Year: 2003
Movie: Something's Gotta Give
Release date: December 12th
Director: Nancy Meyers
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: Nancy Meyers to the rescue! This may be where the Nancy Meyers Movie really established itself as a genre, it being the mother of all Nancy Meyers Movies in a way. It's got the old people (Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton) and it's got the ribald comedy (Nicholson injures his neck while looking away from Keaton's naked body, which he accidentally sees while both are walking in the hallway for a midnight snack). However, it also has another unfortunate thing Meyers is known for after What Women Want -- gender politics that appear like feminism on the surface, but are ultimately a more conventional case of the woman needing to be saved by her prince, flawed though he may be.

Year: 2004
Movie: Spanglish
Release date: December 17th
Director: James L. Brooks
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: We may view it more as a Meyers Movie in retrospect, knowing that it was directed by Brooks, who directed the seminal Meyers Movie How Do You Know. (I'm laughing at myself for that line because How Do You Know has not even come out yet.) This is not a great fit and it is definitely not a great movie, but there's no denying that this more or less fits into the niche, despite the absence of any senior citizens in the cast.

Year: 2005
Movie: The Family Stone
Release date: December 10th
Director: Thomas Bezucha
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: Diane Keaton, to a lesser extent Craig T. Nelson, and an array of darling younger actors (Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Clare Danes) to appeal to the younger viewers. The only movie on this list that is definitely also intended as a Christmas movie, and I think it's a winner.

Year: 2005
Movie: Rumor Has It ...
Release date: December 22nd
Director: Rob Reiner
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: The year 2005 actually gave us two Nancy Meyers Movies. This one qualifies almost exclusively on the basis of Kevin Costner and Shirley MacLaine. As a pseudo-sequel to The Graduate, it's sort of in a category of its own. And it's kind of a weird movie.

Year: 2006
Movie: The Holiday
Release date: December 8th
Director: Nancy Meyers
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: Nancy's back, in what is proving to be a reliable "every three years" release schedule. She ditches the older cast members this time around, as this ensemble stars Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Cameron Diaz. However, it's pretty square in its approach, so older viewers were almost certainly sucked in by it.

Year: 2007
Movie: The Bucket List
Release date: December 25th
Director: Rob Reiner
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: And Rob Reiner has his second film on the list. Old people? Check. Jack Nicholson (that's Nicholson's third mention in this piece) and Morgan Freeman were each 70 years old when the movie was released. The only thing that's missing is the "romantic" part of the "romantic comedy." Oh, and the ensemble part. Okay, maybe it's not a Nancy Meyers Movie. Maybe it's just a movie about old people.

Year: 2008
Movie: Last Chance Harvey
Release date: December 25th
Director: Joel Hopkins
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Hoffman was over 70 and Thompson just a few months from turning 50. However, it's really a two-character film, and it's a bit too sentimental for your typical Meyers Movie.

Year: 2009
Movie: It's Complicated
Release date: December 25th
Director: Nancy Meyers
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: This is the second most prototypical Nancy Meyers Movie, starring the triumvirate of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Baldwin is the baby of the group at 52 -- can you believe Streep is nine years older than he is? Plenty of characters and the requisite number of young people (John Krasinski and Lake Bell) to round things out for the tykes. Plus, there's that bit where Baldwin ends up naked on a web cam, displaying his goods for Martin to see.

Year: 2009
Movie: Everybody's Fine
Release date: December 4th
Director: Kirk Jones
What makes it a Nancy Meyers Movie: It isn't, really, but it sure was advertised as one. This is not a comedy, but when they advertised it, they tried to make it look like a dysfunctional family comedy in which crazy stuff happens. Robert DeNiro holds down the old person role while Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale all smile warmly on the poster, to welcome you into the movie. But this movie is mopey as hell.

Conclusion: For all that I've tried to theorize otherwise, only Nancy Meyers can truly make the perfect Nancy Meyers Movie. Which could mean we'll have to wait until 2012 for the next one, if her schedule of releasing a film every three years continues. IMDB doesn't show anything announced for her, but that doesn't always mean anything.

However, it looks to me like How Do You Know will come pretty close. If you bother to see it, let me know how Nancy Meyers it truly is.


Mike Lippert said...

I'm going to give Brooks a little more credit than this and hope How do You Know is a good movie because he hasn't made anything truly great since Broadcast News.

Vancetastic said...

Wait, just so I understand your position ... because he hasn't made a truly captivating film in over 20 years, you are MORE hopeful about this than you might otherwise be?

I must admit to feeling a little pleased about seeing Reese Witherspoon again ... the other two younger stars are commodities we've been a bit more flooded with.

Mike Lippert said...

I think Brooks made 2 of the most endearing mainstream American movies there have been. Then....complete drop off on the movie front. I guess my hopes have been dashed. Ebert just gave it 2 stars. I suspected as much but every time Brooks makes a movie I still hold my breath for the slight chance that it could be greatness.

I love Owen Wilson as more than just a commodity even though his choices have been hit or miss. Look forward to him in Hall Pass. The script is top grade Farrelly Bros: funny, sweet, not too gross-out and loses it in the 3rd by being too long.

Candi said...

You're a moron. I have LOVED Nancy Meyer's movies since I was in my teen years!! I can't believe you wrote that piece of crap post about her movies.

Vancetastic said...

Sorry to disappoint, Candi! I actually like a number of these movies pretty well. I'm not saying they are bad movies, by no means -- just that they fit a reliable formula. Which isn't such a strange thing in Hollywood.

Thanks for reading!